6

Indianapolis neighborhood tour: Old Northside

Indianapolis neighborhood tour- Old Northside

Welcome to the first installation of a new (sporadic) series: Indianapolis Neighborhood Tour, where you’ll get a history and architecture lover’s tour into one of Indianapolis’ charming neighborhoods without having to plan a thing yourself!
I was immediately charmed by Old Northside when we first came to Indianapolis: rent in the century-old, rather poorly tended apartment buildings were dirt cheap while nearby gorgeous Victorian mansions stood close enough to make me feel as if I might catch some of their genteel wealth by simple proximity. Sadly, I do not technically live in the Old Northside Historic District because we were too slow in putting an offer on the apartment we looked at there, but we’re a few streets off in a no-man’s land, district-wise, so I’m going to go ahead and say it’s ours anyway.

Smooshed between I-65 to the south and 16th street to the north (with Pennsylvania and Bellefontaine hemming it in to the west and east), the Old Northside Historic District is a charming throwback to the 19th century when life in the neighborhood was a decidedly classier, wealthier affair. Heck, even a president had his digs here, so you know the neighborhood was legit! Reaching its cultural peak around WWI, the area fell into a slow decline that meant (sadly) many of its original houses were demolished.

 

Old Northside retains a curious mix of high- and low-end buildings to this day, making an absolutely fascinating contrast!
Thankfully the whole neighborhood was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, thus saving Old Northside from any further destruction. Today the district is made up of core streets lined with stately Victorian houses while the rest of the neighborhood remains a mix of newer constructions and cheerfully dilapidated older structures.

Let’s get started with our first Indianapolis neighborhood tour, shall we?

NB: Some of these places – particularly the shops and restaurants – may be considered to reside in the nearby Herron-Morton district. That being said, I’m not discounting anything simply because it’s on the wrong side of the street… they’re all close enough!

Indianapolis neighborhood tour: Old Northside

Benjamin Harrison House - Indianapolis Neighborhood Tour Old Northside

If you’re coming from downtown, start up N Pennsylvania and swing a right once you hit 13th street (a block above I-65). If you look on your right, you’ll see a lovely two-story brick building – the Benjamin Harrison House (1230 N. Delaware Street, website), the 1875 Victorian home of native Hoosier President Benjamin Harrison. He gave impromptu speeches from the porch while running for president and even died in the master bedroom in 1901 – this was truly his home. There’s a lovely green space right next to it, perfect for a picnic or a quick photo op.

1 hour and 15 minute tours are offered every half hour Monday through Saturday from 10 AM – 3:30 PM. Tours cost $10 for adults and $5 for children aged 5-12.

Indiana Landmarks Center - Indianapolis Neighborhood Tour Old Northside

Continue past the house and take a left to follow 12th street six blocks east. At the junction of 12th and Central, you can’t miss the Indiana Landmarks building (1201 Central Ave, website). Converted from a Methodist church and opened in 2011, the Indiana Landmarks Center is the hub of the nonprofit organization which fights “to defend architecturally unique, historically significant, and communally cherished properties”. The new HQ is gorgeous, both inside and out!

Tours of the center are available Fridays and Saturdays at noon from May through October and cost $5 for adults, $3 for students.

Morris-Butler Home - Indianapolis Neighborhood Tour Old Northside

Tucked in next to the sprawling church building is the Morris-Butler House (1204 N Park Ave, website), another Victorian-era house turned museum. The house was built in 1864 for a local businessman (Morris) who later sold the house to the Butler family when he ran into financial struggles. Used in various capacities through the first half of the 20th century, Indiana Landmarks purchased the building in 1963 as the construction of I-70 threatened its demolition. Today the house is unfortunately closed to the public and is used for private events, but a walk by the stately house is definitely worth it!

Great Oak Commons - Indianapolis Neighborhood Tour Old Northside

Follow the curve in the road and head north on Park until you come to Great Oak Commons, a park between 14th and 15th. That was created from several empty lots. Styled as a Victorian walking park, Great Oak Commons has a fountain, gazebo, sensory garden, and even authentic gas lights! Perfect for a picnic or a little break after all the walking you’ve done!

 

A photo posted by Polly (@letslovelocal) on

To continue with our Indianapolis neighborhood tour of bucolic Old Northside, take a left on 15th (heading briefly north on Central as 15th gets divided) and get a good look at the smaller houses lining the Old Northside’s side streets. I particularly enjoyed the bright blue accents of the Restoration Baptist Church (1502 N New Jersey), a building that dates back to 1898.

While I was originally drawn to the aesthetics of this lovely old church, a hunt to find out a little more about its history uncovered a lot more than I bargained for! This humble little church served as Jim Jones’ first temple as well as the focal point for his radical integration attempts. Yes, that Jim Jones who eventually led the 1978 mass suicide of 918 members of his church in Jonestown, Guyana.

A photo posted by Polly (@letslovelocal) on

Continue down 15th until you hit the T with Delaware; take a right and find yourself in from of the Harrison Center for the Arts (1505 N Delaware St , website), so cleverly disguised in a church that I had no idea it was an arts center until I had walked by several times! Filled with galleries and studios of local artists, the Harrison Center for the Arts is definitely worth a peek inside!

The Propylaeum - Indianapolis Neighborhood Tour Old Northside

The Propylaeum - Indianapolis Neighborhood Tour Old Northside

Head south again on Delaware to get a look at one more point of interest in Old Northside: the The Indianapolis Propylaeum (1410 N Delaware, website). Not sure what a propylaeum is? I wasn’t either, until I looked it up and it was described as “an entrance of architectural importance before a building or enclosure”. I’m still not quite sure why that’s the name of this gorgeous space, but nonetheless, the Indianapolis Propylaeum exists as a historically significant place where cultural events take place. You can check their website to see if you can pop in for a tea service when you’re in town!

If you continue down Delaware, you’ll get back to the Benjamin Harrison house where the tour first started.

NB: I’d encourage a little wandering down the streets in addition to the plan laid out – Old Northside is full of so many architectural gems it’s simply impossible to list them all here. Have your camera and architecture appreciation ready to go!

 

Where to eat

Thirsty Scholar - Indianapolis Neighborhood Tour Old Northside
Thirsty Scholar: I love the Thirsty Scholar! Living within two blocks of a Starbucks for the first time seemed like it would be a big temptation, but this local coffee shop has got the corporate behemoth beat with great atmosphere, beautiful decorations, and they sell beer too! Great for spending a few hours working. (111 E 16th St; $$)
Tinker Street: The restaurant describes itself as “Wonderful wines. Foodier foods. Terrific times.” Housed in an adorably redone urban cottage, Tinker street offers tons of amazing plates using as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. Their wine and beer list is great too! NB: they’re only open at night! (402 E 16th St; $$)
Foundry Provisions: I’ve yet to visit, but Foundry Provisions is always full when I walk by so that’s got to be a good sign. Located inside a bright-red brick building, Foundry serves coffee, breakfast, and lunch options at very reasonable prices. (236 E 16th St; $)
Princess Confections: If you’ve got a hankering for something sweet, head into this tiny little shop and grab one of their beautiful cupcakes. The shop also takes orders for special occasions. (111 E 16th St, $)

Where to shop

Queen Bee Vintage: It’s literally impossible for me to walk by this place and not coo over something they’ve got on display, that’s how good it is! The shop is full of vintage mid-mod treasure, with lots of clothing and home good options. (111 E 16th St)
Tinker Coffee Co.: Are you a hipster who loves coffee? If so, the ultra-minimal, ultra-hip Tinker Coffee Co scene will be perfect for you! A locally-owned specialty coffee roaster, this spot doesn’t actually serve as a cafe but you can buy their products in this location, online, or in various other shops throughout the city. (212 E 16th St)

Where to stay

Indy Inn - Indianapolis Neighborhood Tour Old Northside
Old Northside Inn: Tucked into a quiet part of the neighborhood, the Old Northside Inn is located in an 1885 house with much of the original details left intact. There are six rooms available and breakfast is included. (1340 N Alabama St, website; $$$)
The Looking Glass Inn: The six rooms in the 100+-year-old inn are typical B&B fare and promise a quiet stay just a few minutes’ drive from downtown. The inn offers complimentary breakfast (continental only on weekdays) as well as some additional amenities. (1319 N New Jersey St, website; $$)
Stone Soup Inn: With eight rooms and two separate accommodations, the Stone Soup Inn is a less intimate option than the smaller inns – a plus or minus, depending on who you ask. Less pricey than the other options, the Stone Soup Inn offers continental breakfast on weekdays and a full breakfast on weekends. (1304 N Central Ave, website; $)
Inn at the Villa: If you’re looking for a getaway feel, the Inn at The Villa is probably for you. Equipped with a restaurant and spa, this inn edges closer to a full-amenity hotel than any of the others in Old Northside. With a variety of room options, everyone will find something to their taste here if they don’t mind the higher price tag. (1456 N Delaware St, website; $$-$$$)

Indianapolis neighborhood tour- Old Northside

What did you think about this bespoke Indianapolis neighborhood tour of Old Northside? Totally rocking, or are you less enthused by glorious Victorian architecture than I am? What neighborhood would you suggest exploring in your neck of the woods?

Mentioned in this post
  1. Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site
    Attraction in Indianapolis Indiana

    N Delaware St
    Indianapolis Indiana
    (317) 631-1888
    http://www.presidentbenjaminharrison.org/
  2. Indiana Landmarks
    Attraction in Indianapolis Indiana

    1201 Central Ave
    Indianapolis Indiana
    (317) 639-4534
    http://www.indianalandmarks.org/
  3. Morris-Butler House
    Attraction in Indianapolis Indiana

    1204 N Park Ave
    Indianapolis Indiana
    (317) 639-4534
    http://www.indianalandmarks.org/
  4. Great Oak Commons
    Attraction in Indianapolis Indiana

    N Park Ave
    Indianapolis Indiana
  5. Restoration Baptist Church
    Attraction in Indianapolis Indiana

    1502 N New Jersey St
    Indianapolis Indiana
    (317) 602-7360
  6. Harrison Center for the Arts
    Attraction in Indianapolis Indiana

    1505 N Delaware St
    Indianapolis Indiana
    (317) 396-3886
    http://www.harrisoncenter.org/
  7. The Indianapolis Propylaeum
    Attraction in Indianapolis Indiana

    1410 N Delaware St
    Indianapolis Indiana
    (317) 638-7881
    http://www.thepropylaeum.org/
  8. Thirsty Scholar
    Restaurant in Indianapolis Indiana

    111 E 16th St
    Indianapolis Indiana
    (317) 602-3357
    http://thirstyscholar.net/
  9. Tinker Street
    Restaurant in Indianapolis Indiana

    402 E 16th St
    Indianapolis Indiana
    (317) 925-5000
    http://www.tinkerstreetindy.com/
  10. Foundry Provisions
    Restaurant in Indianapolis Indiana

    236 E 16th St
    Indianapolis Indiana
    (317) 543-7357
    http://foundryprovisions.com/
  11. Queen Bee Vintage
    Attraction in Indianapolis Indiana

    111 E 16th St
    Indianapolis Indiana
    (317) 916-8125
    http://www.facebook.com/queenbeevintage
  12. Tinker Coffee Co.
    Restaurant in Indianapolis Indiana

    212 E 16th St
    Indianapolis Indiana
    (317) 438-5728
    http://www.tinkercoffee.com/
  13. 1340 Alabama St
    Address in Marion County Indiana

    1340 Alabama St
    Marion County Indiana
  14. The Looking Glass Inn
    Hotel in Indianapolis Indiana

    1319 N New Jersey St
    Indianapolis Indiana
    (866) 639-9550
    http://www.thelookingglassinn.com/
  15. Stone Soup Inn
    Hotel in Indianapolis Indiana

    1304 Central Ave
    Indianapolis Indiana
    (866) 639-9550
    http://www.stonesoupinn.com/
  16. 1456 N Delaware St
    Attraction in Marion County Indiana

    1456 N Delaware St
    Marion County Indiana
  • What a charming neighborhood! I’d claim it as my own as well 😉 I love when places like this are rescued by the historic register and saved from further destruction. US cities would be pretty boring places without those old, beautiful buildings.

    • I had no idea just how widespread the historic register was but after coming back to the States I’ve loved looking through it for inspiration and the scope of it is really amazing. Such good work!

  • Andrea Marino

    My husband and I are new home owners in The Old Northside and just love everything the neighborhood has to offer.

    • Congratulations! I’m incredibly jealous, I’m sure your house is lovely!

  • Janice arion Stotler

    Lived in Indianapolis for 46 years. Loved seeing these great pictures. My first years were spent working at the then 1505 N Delaware owned by First Presbyterian Church. I was secretary to the ministers there for 8 years from 1953 to 1961. Only thing in this article is that at the very beginning you say “up Pennsylvania”, If it is still one way you would not be able to go “up” because it runs south. Thanks for this

    • How very cool! I love this town, though not sure if it’s 46 year’s worth yet!

      And the tour was created as a walking tour (the one person without a car in Indy here!) so yes, some of the city’s infernal one-way streets might change the route if driven – great point!